Sacrificing Others for the Cause
Paul Berman tells the moving story of Joe Clark and his daughter Judith Clark in Tablet. Growing up in Brooklyn, Clark was part of a clique of left-wing, Jewish kids. Many of his friends joined the small Trotskyite cult. Joe, however, joined the Communist Party. As a good Stalinist, he cut off all contact with his old friends and did not speak to them for decades.
Meanwhile, Joe rose in the ranks of the American Communist Party and became the foreign editor of the Daily Worker. His job was to present world affairs as interpreted by the Soviet Poliburo in a way that Communists everywhere could support. That was easy for him because he believed in the Soviet Union.
The crisis for Joe Clark came in 1956, when Stalin's successor Nikita Khrushchev revealed the magnitude of Stalin's crimes. The idols fell from Joe's eyes. He went to visit his old friends, many of them now on the editorial board of Dissent, the voice of democratic socialism. He confessed that they had been right, and he had been wrong. He wanted to start anew and repent.
His old friends welcomed him to the Dissent editorial board, and he became the magazine's expert on Communism. He wrote eviscerating reviews of two sentimental accounts of the American Communist Party.
Berman speculates on what happened to Joe Clark. Clark and others like him, Berman writes, had been drawn to the Communist Party by their political ideals. But they "allowed the roar of Communist ideology to drown out their common sense. They could no longer hear the sound of human suffering. The Communist leaders stipulated that it was right and proper to bring many millions of people to their death in order to achieve the triumph of the working class, and right and proper to deny that any such thing was going on."
But Clark did not entirely lose his humanity. When Khrushchev revealed that Stalin had murdered more Communists than Hitler ever did, he was still able to "take in the reality" of Stalin's crimes and be horrified by them and his part in them.
Sadly, Joe Clark's daughter Judith Clark retraced her father's error in her own life, at a much higher price. Expelled from the University of Chicago, she joined one of the New Left's mini-guerrilla factions. If there was one thing the New Left of her generation despised, it was the moderate democratic socialism of the Old Left writers at Dissent and the like, whom they felt had betrayed the revolution.
Judith Clark was the getaway driver in a failed Brinks robbery in 1981, "The purpose of the robbery," as described by Berman, "was to fund a full-scale guerrilla army, with the goal of bringing liberation to, above all, the black people of America – and yet the only results were the murders of a security guard and two policemen, one of whom was the first black policeman to integrate the police department of Nyack." Like her father, in Berman's estimation, Judith and "the revolutionary Communists had come to believe that death is a mechanism to be used for fanciful goals, and their belief deafened them to the realities."
And like her father before her, Judith has thought long and hard about what she did and the consequences, including over one wrenching Yom Kippur.
In prison, she not only took responsibility for the human toll of her terrible decisions, but has helped other prisoners take responsibility for their lives. Everyone who has met her, including the long-time superintendent of the prison in which she has spent most of her adult life, testifies that she is totally transformed from the rage-filled, young woman she once was. Her defiance at trial, rather than her actual role in the robbery, explains why she is still in jail, while many of her accomplices are out.
WHY AM I THINKING of the Clarks, father and daughter, right now? Because it occurs to me that turning our fellow human beings into means or instruments to an end, as somehow expendable for the greater good or even our perceived benefit, might just be one aspect of sinas chinam (baseless hatred).
One need not be a defender of the Gulag or a gun-toting radical to fit the bill. The virtue-signalng and moral preening of contemporary progressivism falls into the same category. Black essayist Shelby Steele points out that our contemporary discussion of race has more to do with "white esteem than minority accomplishment." Last year, there were 4,000 shootings in Chicago, most of them of minorities by minorities. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's response: Declare Chicago a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. "This," writes Steele, "is [the elevation of] moral esteem over reality; the self-congratulation of idealism."
Nor is our own community free from such use of human beings for larger ends, on either the personal or communal level. Each of the three bad middos that Chazal describe as taking a person out of the world – kinnah, taavah and kavod (envy, desire, and the pursuit of honor) – have an aspect to them of turning others into tools for our use; tools for measuring ourselves; tools for our pleasure; tools for affirming us.
Lately, as part of a campaign to delegitimize IDF service at any age, there are those who have counseled yeshiva bochurim not to register for the draft. At present, those who register have no chance of being drafted, as long as they are learning in yeshiva. Those who don't, however, are considered AWOL, which can lead to very serious and long-lasting consequences.
Yesterday, one of those yeshiva bochurim who did not register, and who was held aloft as a hero at mass demonstrations, faced a choice that need never have been: Spend two years in jail or enlist in the army. He has already spent many weeks in military jail, where many of his jailors were young female soldiers, a humiliating situation for a young, unmarried ben Torah.
He was, rightly, advised to opt for the IDF. As the late Rabbi Shlomo Papenheim once told me, the Eidah HaChareidis traditionally eschewed violent demonstrations, in part out of recognition of the devastating impact that even the briefest jail sentence could have on the soul of a young bochur.
The tragic irony is that a protest against the army resulted in a fine yeshiva bochur being forced to leave learning and enter the IDF unnecessarily. He was a futile korban (sacrifice) to a cause.
Picking Fights to Avoid Obligation
Another possible aspect of sinas chinam occurs to me: Manufacturing disputes as a means of shirking responsibility. That is a common phenomenon because human beings resist acknowledging their dependence on others and obligation to them.
Thus Chasam Sofer famously asked why a certain person was rodef (pursued) him, as he had never done anything for him. And Rabbi Moshe Sherer used to quip that he was often tempted to give a small pebble to recipients of favors so they would not be tempted someday to throw a large rock at him.
The well-known lecturer Rabbi Yitzchok Feldheim of Lakewood describes a husband who came to speak to him about shalom bayis problems. He rattled off a long list of housekeeping deficiencies: dishes in the sink, sticky furniture, poorly organized shelves with Lego everywhere. "It's just not menschlich," he said.
Rabbi Feldheim replied, "What are you doing that makes you ashamed to look your wife in the eye?" The man grew red-faced. Rabbi Feldheim explained the giveaway. "You told me three times, 'It's just not menschlich. Menschlich is a moral term. It would have been much more normal for you to say, 'She's not geshicht (capable).' When you accused her of a moral failing it became obvious that you have some moral failing that is causing you shame every time you look at your wife."
Rabbi Feldheim went on to sketch another scenario making the same point about why spouses sometimes pick fights.
"You come home from work, and you are looking forward to your regular basketball game in 45 minutes. Your primary concern is eating some supper before heading to the courts.
"Meanwhile your wife, who had a no less arduous day than you, is bathing several kids and getting them ready for bed. You know you should offer to help, but you are worried about being late to the game.
"So what do you do? You need to find something to fight about, something that will allow you to stomp out of the house and slam the door behind in righteous indignation and not come home for three hours. Some way to convince yourself that your wife has wronged you, as you know you are wronging her."
As we attempt to rid ourselves of the sinas chinam for which the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, one first step when we find ourselves becoming angry with someone else would be to ask whether we have some unacknowledged duty of hakaros hatov (gratitude) to that person. The next step would be to ask whether there is anything in our own behavior that mirrors the behavior for which we are criticizing the other.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Intellectuals, Jewish Ethics, The Three Weeks & Tisha B'Av
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